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Justice: Vaccine lottery prizes include $1 million, scholarships, pickups, firearms

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice, who in April dismissed the idea of offering incentives to encourage people to get COVID-19 vaccinations, on Tuesday unveiled the first round of state vaccination incentive lottery prizes to be awarded on West Virginia Day, June 20.

The top prize that day will be $1 million. Also to be given away are two four-year scholarships to public state colleges, open to ages 12 to 25; two custom pickups; 25 state parks weekend getaway packages; five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses; five custom rifles; and five custom shotguns.

“I can’t stand for Ohio to get ahead of us on anything,” Justice said during the state COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

The governor previously has said the West Virginia lottery is emulating vaccination incentives underway in that state, which includes weekly drawings for $1 million prizes and for college scholarships.

Justice said Tuesday that West Virginia will conduct weekly drawings through Aug. 4, although he indicated there will be no additional large cash prizes until the final drawing Aug. 4, when there will be a grand prize of $1,588,000 and a runner-up prize of $588,000.

Those prizes are a play on Justice’s “Beat 588 Bad” slogan, based on his assumption that he is reaching out to 588,000 West Virginians who are vaccine hesitant or anti-vaccine.

He said a state website will be set up for residents to register for the lottery drawings.

Contestants must have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines, although the governor did not explain Tuesday how that will be verified when residents register for the lottery.

Justice has said previously that costs of the vaccine incentive lottery will be paid out of unexpended federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds. According to the State Auditor’s Office, West Virginia as of Monday had a CARES Act cash balance of $589.92 million of the total of $1.27 billion of funds received last spring and summer.

The governor also said the vehicles and firearms to be given away will be purchased by the government, as opposed to being donated by retailers.

Justice first announced the vaccination incentive lottery at the May 27 briefing, saying, “There’s going to be so many wonderful prizes, it’s absolutely going to blow your mind.”

Vaccination incentive lotteries mark a change of heart for the governor, who as recently as mid-April dismissed the idea of incentivizing people to get vaccinated.

Asked about offering incentives at his April 18 briefing, Justice responded incredulously, saying, “Should we be paying people to get vaccinated? Really? Should you pay someone in order to try to save their life?”

At his briefing Tuesday, the governor said, “If you just step back and think, ‘Why in the world would you have to give away something to get people vaccinated?’ Unfortunately, it’s the way of the world these days.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s COVID-19 czar, said Tuesday the reported 5,602 new cases of COVID-19 in the United States is the lowest daily total since the pandemic began, and is a testimony to the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Despite the encouraging numbers, Marsh added, “We know people in West Virginia who are not immunized are still susceptible to becoming ill.”

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch, citing federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, said unvaccinated people should be tested for COVID-19 one to three days before traveling, and within three to five days of returning from travel.

CDC guidelines recommend people delay travel until fully vaccinated, he said.

Kids make splash in pool despite cooler weather

HUNTINGTON — Families took an opportunity to celebrate Monday’s mild weather with a few splashes in the pool.

On Memorial Day, the National Weather Service recorded a high of 72 degrees around 5 p.m. and a low of 45 degrees around 5 a.m. The day was about 10 degrees cooler than the normal value temperature.

The record high for May 31 in Huntington is 96 degrees in 1919. The record low is 35 degrees in 1966.

Monday morning was fairly foggy in Huntington, but the visibility increased throughout the day. Kids were able to swim in the YMCA Kennedy Center Pool, one of many in the region that opened over the holiday weekend.

GOP Ohio senators propose 5% tax cut as part of state budget

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohioans would receive a 5% personal income tax cut and schools would gain more state funding under Senate Republicans’ version of the upcoming state budget released Tuesday.

The 5% cut over two years for a total of $874 million is deeper than the 2% proposed in the House-passed version of the budget. The cut is a reward for people who are working, said Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, who called it a “stimulus” in the best sense of the word.

“If we want to talk about stimulus plans and what works and what doesn’t, an income tax cut will always be the best stimulus,” Huffman said. The Senate plan also eliminates sales taxes paid by Ohio job employment agencies. It makes no sense to tax companies trying to find work for people, said Senate Finance Chair Matt Dolan, a Republican representing suburban Cleveland.

The Senate budget plan also boosts funding for schools over the House plan by $223 million over two years, using a base annual figure of $6,110 to educate a child. In addition, for the first time the state would fund state charter schools and schools enrolling students through the Ohio voucher program directly rather than districts having to transfer money to those schools, under the proposal.

“It is a sustainable plan,” Dolan said, “which means we can pay for this plan and the school districts can rely on it.”

The budget also eliminates about $200 million meant to pay for grants expanding broadband service. Huffman said the use of the money needs to be more developed.

“People are anxious to spend money on something that everybody thinks is a good idea,” he said. “I think it’s a bad idea to just start spending without a plan.”

The Senate plan also provides an additional $740,000 for 13 Ohio veterans organizations and sets aside $400,000 for a shelter for homeless women vets in Cleveland.

The Senate and House must reconcile their competing versions of the budget this month ahead of the new fiscal year July 1.

Sen. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, criticized Senate Republicans for scrapping the bipartisan school-funding plan approved earlier this year by the House as part of its budget proposal.

The plan announced Tuesday was “created behind closed doors with zero input and vetting from public school stakeholders, including taxpayers, and which could have huge unintended consequences,” Fedor said.